WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate

Press Releases

2015 Fire Season One for the Record Books? Not So Much

September 1, 2015
Bryan Bird (505) 699-4719
In This Release
Public Lands
Missoula, MT – With so much media and political attention focused on wildfires – and in some cases public lands management and calls to greatly increase logging on national forests by reducing public input and environmental analysis – it is helpful to review this year’s wildfire statistics to see what’s burned and where.

According to the National Interagency Coordinator Center’s ‘Incident Management Situation Report from Tuesday, September 1, 2015’ (http://www.nifc.gov/nicc/sitreprt.pdf):

  • As of today, a total of 8,202,557 acres have burned in U.S. wildfires. In 1930 and 1931, over 50 million acres burned each year and during the 10 year (hot and dry) period from the late 1920’s to the late 1930’s an AVERAGE of 30 million acres burned every year in the U.S. [NOTE: the 2001 National Fire Plan update indicates more than 140 million acres burned annually in the pre-industrial, conterminous United States (https://www.nifc.gov/PIO_bb/Policy/FederalWildlandFireManagementPolicy_2001.pdf)].
  • This year, 63% of ALL wildfire acres burned in the U.S. burned in Alaska, much of it over remote tundra ecosystems. According to federal records, since 1959 the average temperature in Alaska has jumped 3.3 degrees and the average winter temperature has spiked 5 degrees.
  • Less than 8% of ALL wildfires that have burned this year in the U.S. have burned in the northern Rockies.
  • National Forests account for ONLY 15% of all wildfire acres burned in U.S. this year.
  • 88% of all BLM (Bureau of Land Management) acres burned in wildfires this year were in Alaska, again much of tundra, not forests.
  • And firefighting costs to the taxpayer continue to skyrocket. According to the U.S. Forest Service, in 1995, fire made up 16 percent of the agency’s annual appropriated budget—this year, for the first time, more than 50 percent of the Forest Service’s annual budget will be dedicated to wildfire. The agency predicts the share of the budget devoted to fire in 2025 could exceed 67 percent. (http://www.fs.fed.us/sites/default/files/2015-Rising-Cost-Wildfire-Operations.pdf).

This information is not meant to discount specific experiences communities, homeowners or citizens have had with wildfires this year, but serves as important, fact-based information and context regarding what land ownerships have burned and where they are located.

Again, this information is especially important in the context of recent statements (and pending federal legislation) from lawmakers blaming wildfires on a lack of national forest logging or a handful of timber sale lawsuits.

If lawmakers are going to use another wildfire season to weaken our nation’s key environmental or public lands laws by increasing logging (including calls by Rep Ryan Zinke (R-MT) for logging within Wilderness Areas) then the public should have facts and statistics available to help put the wildfires in context.

Finally, please keep in mind that right now the U.S. Forest Service has the ability to conduct an unlimited number of ‘fast-track’ logging projects on over 45 MILLION acres of National Forest nationally – and on 5 MILLION acres of National Forests in Montana. This public lands logging would all be ‘categorically excluded from the requirements of NEPA.’


Other Contact
Matthew Koehler, WildWest Institute, (406) 396-0321